The Readers Review: Literature from 1800 to 1910 discussion

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Archives 2012 Group Reads > Sherlock Holmes: The Valley of Fear-Part Two: July 22 through July 28

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message 1: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 2587 comments Mod
Some discussion suggestions:

- The Scowrers talk about the “capitalists” as if they were the enemy. Indeed, many Americans before WWII distrusted capitalism somewhat. Particularly in the 1800s and at the time of this novel in the early 1900s, there were few laws that regulated business. “Robber barons” such as Astor, Vanderbilt, Carnegie, and particularly Rockefeller, were ruthless when it came to eliminating competitors and in dealing with their workers. It wasn’t until Teddy Roosevelt with his anti-monopoly laws, the Great Depression, and Franklin D. Roosevelt that businesses were finally regulated, and workers attained more rights.

- The “war” between business and unions in the U.S. in the 1800s was quite a bloody affair. But here as well as with capitalism, you also have a basic distrust by the average American. People were afraid of Marxism creeping into American society. And also, as it relates to this novel, most workers who formed and fought for unions were immigrants or the sons and daughters of immigrants. How do the Scowrers resemble the union battle? They are depicted harshly; what might that say about Doyle’s own views?

- John McMurdo and the Scowrers are freemasons. Who are the freemasons? How is Doyle connected to the freemasons? And given that, why would Doyle depict the freemasons of Vermissa Valley as corrupt?

- The protagonist of Part Two is of Irish descent, but most of the Scowrers are also of Irish descent, feeding into the negative depiction of the Irish at the time. Again, given his own background, why would Doyle portray the Irish in such as negative light?

- What do the Pinkertons represent? How does that relate to America as a whole?

- The men in the story are coal miners. How does that industry and others like it (oil/steel/etc.) play into the building of America in the 1800s?

- McMurdo also has been in Chicago. Why would Doyle pick Chicago for McMurdo’s background? What does the city represent?

- When I read the name “Boss” McGinty, I thought of another man by the name of “Boss” from the late 1800s. I couldn’t find any information on it doing research so I may be wrong, but could Doyle have been thinking of Boss Tweed, especially given Boss McGinty’s physical description?

- At the beginning of Part Two, when McMurdo meets a fellow freemason, they speak in code. How does that relate to Part One and also the Adventure of the Dancing Men?

- At what part of the story did you realize who McMurdo was?

- Birdy Edwards is involved in criminal activity in other to gain information on the Scowrers. Do the crimes justify the end result?

- So far we’ve seen three very negative depictions of the people of the United States. I’m beginning to think that Doyle doesn’t like Americans. ;) They are always portrayed as rather thuggish. First in A Study Scarlet, in The Valley of Fear, and in The Adventure of the Dancing Men. Should we be offended?

- Moriarty made another invisible appearance at the end of the novel. How?


message 2: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 2587 comments Mod
Memorable quotes from The Valley of Fear, Part Two:

- Regarding the coal mining regions: “How desolate it was! Little could the first pioneer who had traversed it have ever imagined that the fairest prairies and the most lush water pastures were valueless compared to this gloomy land of black crag and tangled forest.”

- Another passage regarding the coal mining regions: “The iron and coal valleys of the Vermissa district were no resorts for the leisured or the cultured. Everywhere there were stern signs of the crudest battle of life, the rude work to be done, and the rude, strong workers who did it.”

- Regarding McMurdo: “Yet the man who studied him more closely might discern a certain firmness of jaw and grim tightness about the lips which would warn him that there were depths beyond, and that this pleasant, brown-haired young Irishman might conceivably leave his mark for good or evil upon any society to which he was introduced.”

- Regarding McMurdo: “McMurdo was a man who made his mark quickly. Wherever he was the folk around soon knew it. Within a week he had become infinitely the most important person at Shafter’s.”

- Regarding McMurdo: “He showed again and again, as he had shown in the railway carriage, a capacity for sudden, fierce anger, which compelled the respect and even the fear of those who met him.”

- Regarding McMurdo: “In addition to this he impressed his comrades with the idea that among them all there was not one whose brain was so ready to devise a bloodthirsty scheme, or whose hand would be more capable of carrying it out.”

- Regarding Boss McGinty: “Year by year, Boss McGinty’s diamond pins became more obtrusive, his gold chains more weighty across a more gorgeous vest, and his saloon stretched farther and farther, until it threatened to absorb one whole side of the Market Square.”

- Regarding Boss McGinty: “It was only when those dead, dark eyes, deep and remorseless, were turned upon a man that he shrank within himself, feeling that he was face to face with an infinite possibility of latent evil, with a strength and courage and cunning behind it which made it a thousand times more deadly.”

- On the Scowrers: “The repeated failures of the law had proved to them that, on the one hand, no one would dare to witness against them, and on the other they had an unlimited number of stanch witnesses upon whom they could call, and a well filled treasure chest from which they could draw the funds to engage the best legal talent in the state.”

- Murdo on the capitalists: “Sure, it is like a war. What is it but a war between us and them, and we hit back where we best can.”

- “Birdy Edwards is here. I am Birdy Edwards!”

- “You know me now for what I am. At last I can put my cards on the table. I am Birdy Edwards of Pinkerton’s. I was chosen to break up your gang. I had a hard and dangerous game to play. Not a soul, not one soul, not my nearest and dearest, knew that I was playing it. Only Captain Marvin here and my employers knew that. But it’s over tonight, thank God, and I am the winner!”


message 3: by Lynnm (last edited Jul 23, 2012 12:34PM) (new)

Lynnm | 2587 comments Mod
The capitalists in the story are framed as the victims.

I'm not anti-capitalist, but if you study the history of capitalism in the U.S. in the 1800s, the men (and they were all men) that ran the big companies were anything but victims.

I did a paper once on John Rockefeller and his Standard Oil, and to say that he wasn't a nice guy is a gross understatement. He ran over all his competitors, and treated his workers who tried to organize unions horribly.

And it was because of Rockefeller and his business practices that we have anti-monopoly laws today.

[Interesting fact - a woman, Ida Tarbell, was a muckraker (what we would call an investigative journalist today) who through extensive articles on Rockefeller brought a lot of his negative business practices to light.]

And there were others, including the robber barons:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robber_b...

Doyle, however, plays into the traditional narrative. Workers who fought to maintain some type of rights were the "bad" guys. Of course, the bad guys here are truly bad, but the vast majority of men and women who fought to have some say in their workplace were not.

Another interest fact - The United States is a capitalist society, but there is no mention of capitalism in any of our founding documents.

Again, not anti-capitalist...just trying to break down the text.


message 4: by Jo (last edited Jul 23, 2012 02:19PM) (new)

Jo (Deronda) | 69 comments Lynnm wrote: "So far we’ve seen three very negative depictions of the people of the United States. I’m beginning to think that Doyle doesn’t like Americans. ;) They are always portrayed as rather thuggish. First in A Study Scarlet, in The Valley of Fear, and in The Adventure of the Dancing Men. Should we be offended?"

Since I'm not from the US, I have always wanted to know how American readers feel when confronted with Doyle's depiction of your fellow countrymen. True, they don't appear in a favourable light, but then again, their British counterparts (thugs, thieves and murderers) aren't much better, are they? It's hard to say I'd feel offended or not, if I were an American.
Let's not forget there are quite a number of SH stories with an American back story ... up to now, (apart from the aforementioned stories) I have come across 'The Five Orange Pips', 'The Yellow Face' and 'The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor' - those are the ones that I remember. I didn't get the impression that CD depicts Americans as paragons of evil. Some of those stories are even quite touching, especially 'The Yellow Face' ...


message 5: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 2587 comments Mod
Jo wrote: "Since I'm not from the US, I have always wanted to know how American readers feel when confronted with Doyle's depiction of your fellow countrymen. True, they don't appear in a favourable light, but then again, their British counterparts (thugs, thieves and murderers) aren't much better, are they? It's hard to say I'd feel offended or not, if I were an American. "

I was just teasing. But it was a bit like, hmmm, here we go again with the American bad guy. :-) Good to know that some of the other stories feature better Americans.

And the worse criminal of course is Moriarty who is British.


message 6: by S (new)

S A

I was also intrigued with the repeated reference to "capitalists" with a negative connotation, in part because I have an interest in economics.

The setting of this story takes place at the end of the U.S. classical economics phase and corruption was rampant in part because of the lack of an enforceable system of oversight. I believe this is the economic style of capitalism which was being criticized in the story and it's a fairly accurate view, otherwise the subsequent Keynesian system would never have taken hold in the U.S.

As an American, I do not take offense at the negative connotation towards capitalism in the story. I believe Doyle does a fair job of representing the evils in all sorts of groups and he's using artistic license to weave an intriguing tale. After all, the Freemen in the story were extremely corrupt and evil in balance with the "capitalists."




message 7: by MadgeUK (last edited Jul 24, 2012 02:20AM) (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments True, they don't appear in a favourable light, but then again, their British counterparts (thugs, thieves and murderers) aren't much better, are they?

Quite a lot of British literature at this time puts workers and trade unionist in a more favourable light, as the oppressed underdogs etc - Dickens, Eliot, Gaskell etc. America has always been much harder on collectivisation than Brits, where the first trade unions - guilds - were formed in Elizabethan times. This is why capitalism has got out of hand in America - there has been very little to check it. MacCarthy was a pro-capitalist and his smearing of trade unionists and anyone who supported them as 'communists/Marxists' put the final nail in the coffin of responsible American Trade Unionism. Margaret Thatcher, imitating Reagan, tried to do the same here but did not quite succeed and there is still some respect for worker's rights and their right to strike etc., although for how long under this present administration goodness knows:(

Miners have been at the forefront of trade unionism in many countries, perhaps because their working conditions underground were possibly the worst that humans then suffered. In leading the fight for better working conditions for themselves, they led the way for better conditions for all of us. Any corruption in their ranks has been far outweighed by the corruption (and cruelty) of their capitalist opponents and is so, everwhere, until the present day. (End of rant.)

...otherwise the subsequent Keynesian system would never have taken hold in the U.S.

?? Are you referring to Keynes' visit to Roosevelt and the New Deal etc? There certainly isn't a Keynsian system there now - 'small government' has long been the cry in America and socialist economics a la Keynes have long been decried. Although Obama's Health Care policy and other minor interventions have been described as 'commie' and Keynsian, this is just GOP hysteria.

http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-keyne...

Doyle is voicing the Victorian attitude towards anarchists and secret societies, who conducted a number of terrorist attacks then, including an assassination attempt upon Queen Victoria by the Fenians. Trade Unionists were thought to be allied to them and although they were not, the sensationalist Press kept slurring them, just as McCarthy was to do later.


message 8: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 2587 comments Mod
S wrote: "I was also intrigued with the repeated reference to "capitalists" with a negative connotation, in part because I have an interest in economics.The setting of this story takes place at the end of th..."

Is Doyle really saying that the capitalists are behaving poorly? It seems as if he makes them out to be the victims, and uses McMurdo/Birdy Edwards to save a number of them.

But I do agree that capitalists of this time were very corrupt because of the lack of regulations, and yes, that brought in far more regulations and government oversight in the early 1900s.

And it makes sense that there was little government oversight in the 1800s. After all, the industrial revolution is relatively new, and in America, capitalism takes on a sort of lawlessness that reflects parts of the settling of the west.

The U.S. federal government was far smaller in 19th century America, and their focus was on acquiring land and settling the west. And quite frankly, while a rather dispicable lot, the American capitalists of this time helped to make America strong economically and built a lot of the first infrastructure. They also built the industries that made America a world player by exploiting the U.S.'s natural resources: coal, oil, etc.

Of course, Marx warns of capitalist overreach, but few in 19th century America were looking to Marx for instruction. :-)


message 9: by Lynnm (last edited Jul 24, 2012 07:04AM) (new)

Lynnm | 2587 comments Mod
MadgeUK wrote: "Quite a lot of British literature at this tim..."

I agree that it took longer to build unions in this country than in Britain. It really wasn't until the 1900s that unions begin to take hold.

Part of that comes from the capitalist excesses of the 1800s that causes distrust amongst the American people. Part from new government regulations due to capitalist excesses. Part from immigrants who had enough of working in sweatshops for low wages and in unsafe work conditions. Add to that some high profile events (such as the Triangle shirtwaist factory fire) and books such as Upton Sinclair's The Jungle.

But don't confuse McCarthyism with the downfall of unions. Unions were very popular at that time, the economy was booming, but at the same time, there were a lot of regulations on business. And a lot of investment from the government in infrastructure. All combined to make America the # 1 economy.

It was Reagan in the 80s that brought down most of the unions, and a lot of it came as a backlash against the 1960s, but most from the economic problems of the 1970s. People wanted business to grow and felt that unions were holding business back.

To be honest, I think that even without Reagan, unions would have suffered. We are in a global economy, and all those union jobs have been shipped overseas.

It was really (Bill) Clinton that put us on the path we are on today. He got rid of most of the banking regulations. And Bush II gave businesses all their tax breaks. Add to that the new global economy where most of the manufacturing jobs are no longer in the west.

Also, from day one, there has been a fight over small vs. large federal government. That is nothing new. But what people forget is that it is over that one key word - whether the FEDERAL government is small or large. It is the fight over federal vs. state, not really big vs. small overall.

Even Thoreau who people point to when they talk about limited government really wasn't saying to get rid of government - he was arguing for a "better" government.


message 10: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Thanks for all that info Lynn. Yes, one of your problems is the federal system because it prevents a lot being done by government overall - like a National health sevice or a National railway etc.

I blame McCarthyism for a lot of things that went wrong in America; for a certain sort of mindset about anything he villified as 'left wing' - which Europeans just see as liberal. The same sort of attitudes can be seen in the Tea Party today and it is a general malaise on the right. All the attacks on Obama's 'left wing' policies (Ha Ha!) stem from inherent McCarthyism and retrograde Cold War politics.

But we get away from SH and CD....Sorry!


message 11: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 2587 comments Mod
Yes, we are getting away from SH. :-) But in my humble opinion, while I like to read classic literature and study history for their own sake, I also like to update the topics to current events.

And capitalism and unions are still in the news today.

McCarthyism was bad, but if anything good can come out of something like that, after seeing what happened, people never want to go there again. Recently, Michelle Bachmann stated that Muslims were infiltrating Washington and named a woman in Hillary's staff. She was rounding condemmed by members of her own party, and people were saying that it reminded them of McCarthyism.


message 12: by Lynnm (last edited Jul 24, 2012 06:05PM) (new)

Lynnm | 2587 comments Mod
Some information on the freemasons and Pinkertons (my apologies if this is already in Background, but that's a long thread and didn't want to have to go through every post.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freemasonry

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinkerto....

The Scowrers don't act like freemasons (which are a type of fraternal or religious group). They seem more intent on going after the "capitalists." Which is why I've been going from that angle. Also, the Pinkertons are known for their work for capitalists at that time to stop labor unrest.


message 13: by Amanda (last edited Jul 24, 2012 07:08PM) (new)

Amanda Garrett (AmandaElizabeth1) | 154 comments The second half of The Valley of Fear reminds me a great deal of the 1950s film On the Waterfront, which deals with a corrupt longshoreman's union in New Jersey.

Both feature a corrupt union boss who rules his designated region with a combination of bribery and violence. Both feature an informant/hero who pays a price for his honesty. Although Marlon Brando does survive to the end of the film, the original screenplay called for him to be brutally murdered.

According to IMDB, "Waterfront" is based on real events, so union corruption must have been a real issue. Either that, or ACD deserved a partial screenwriting credit.

The film was also a reaction to the McCarthy hearings. The director Elia Kazan had identified several colleagues as communists to the House Un-American Activities committee. "Waterfront" was his attempt to explain his actions and to put the role of the informer in a heroic light.


message 14: by S (new)

S A

MadgeUK wrote: ?? Are you referring to Keynes' visit to Roosevelt and the New Deal etc? There certainly isn't a Keynsian system there now - 'small government' has long been the cry in America and socialist economics a la Keynes have long been decried ...

My only point was just to illustrate that the U.S. economic system would not have changed so drastically over the course of 60 or so years if it weren't for the public support of "change" coming out of the end of the classical era which was marked by the gilded age (during which the story takes place) and the indulgence into the 1920s. There is still a great debate with regard to whether or not the New Deal (which adopted elements of a Keynesian model despite the fact that FDR wasn't completely on-board with Keynes) was effective ... but regardless, the merits or flaws of any economic system wasn't intended to be made point of.




message 15: by MadgeUK (last edited Jul 24, 2012 11:28PM) (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Lynn: And capitalism and unions are still in the news today.

I saw this today wherein Chris Hedges writes:

'All of the true correctives to American democracy came through movements that never achieved formal political power.'

http://truth-out.org/news/item/10494-...

CD was a Freemason until he took up Spiritualism. This Freemason website lists 5 of his books which have references to Freemasonry:-

http://www.freemasoncollection.com/9-...

About the Valley of Fear another Freemason site cites these references from VofF:-

'Among the clues are a card with the symbol V.V.341 scrawled upon it, referring to the Ancient Order of Freemen, the "The Scowrers", Lodge 341, Vermissa Valley, USA. "There is no town without a lodge" and "grips and passwords are helpful. A brand mark on the arm of the murder victim: an equilateral triangle inside a circle. [AQC xciii 3]
London : Smith, Elder, 1915,189p ; 21cm
"John McMurdo", said the voice, "are you already a member of the Ancient Order of Freemen?"
He bowed in assent.
"Is your lodge No. 29, Chicago?"
He bowed again. '


message 16: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 2587 comments Mod
S wrote: "My only point was just to illustrate that the U.S. economic system would not have changed so drastically over the course of 60 or so years if it weren't for the public support of "change" coming out of the end of the classical era which was marked by the gilded age (during which the story takes place) and the indulgence into the 1920s."

Good point.

It is hard to emphasis enough how harsh business was in the 1800s, and the lack of regulations and workers rights.

Even Louisa May Alcott weighed in on the subject in her book "Work."

And not to mention the economic depression that hit in the 1870s.

By the end of the 1800s/early 1900s, the conversation moves from the people without the power to the people who do have the power. But as you said, it took the excesses of the 20s and the Great Depression for the big changes to come.


message 17: by Bob (last edited Aug 01, 2012 11:26AM) (new)

Bob | 33 comments I don't know anything about CD's politics, beyond the evidence of the SH stories, but based on that, he must have been pretty conservative. As far as I know, Valley of Fear is the only story that revolves around a union - and he makes them out to be essentially gangsters. I gather that the Molly Maguires were a pretty rough bunch, but I find it hard to believe they were as corrupt a bunch of thieves as CD portrays them. And the fact that he chose the Molly Maguires for his story, rather than a more responsible union movement, also suggests that he wanted to present unions to the reader in a bad light by presenting the worst rather than the best example.

I do love the SH stories, and I loved Valley of Fear when I read it in my youth - I was totally surprised and blown away when I first read the words "Birdy Edwards is here. I am Birdy Edwards!" - but I have to admit that CD's political perspective in this story is pretty far over to the right of the spectrum.


message 18: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments I agree Bob but it was a very conservative age where workers were just beginning to fight for the rights which we now all enjoy (and which are gradually being diluted....) The Molly Maguires were just one of many militant groups trying to curb the excesses of unscrupulous employers and Sean Connery's film about them captures some of the terrible working conditions and the struggle in which they were engaged (there is more about this in my Background stuff):-

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0QXjEu...


message 19: by Bob (new)

Bob | 33 comments MadgeUK wrote: "I agree Bob but it was a very conservative age where workers were just beginning to fight for the rights which we now all enjoy (and which are gradually being diluted....) The Molly Maguires were ..."

I guess you're right.

Another thing: As I think about it, it's amazing how many of the SH stories involve secret societies of one sort or another - the Avenging Angels in SoS as has been discussed, the nameless German societies implicated by the "Rache" ruse in SoS, the Molly Maguires here, the KKK, the Black Hand (Sicilian Mafia), Anarchists, and numerous others, no doubt, that I've forgotten. I suppose that in late 1800s England (and probably in the U.S. as well) there was an unusual amount of paranoia floating around, regarding various conspiracies, real or imagined . . . .


message 20: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 2587 comments Mod
Bob wrote: "I don't know anything about CD's politics, beyond the evidence of the SH stories, but based on that, he must have been pretty conservative. As far as I know, Valley of Fear is the only story that ..."

He does make them out to be gangsters. As Madge said, workers rights were new at this time, and those in power had difficulties reconciling themselves to that fact.

They made sure that the workers were portrayed as thugs and as people who wanted to bring down democracy. The American labor union fight was a very bloody one, but as Madge said, gave workers rights, workplace safety, etc. that we take for granted today. And yes, sadly, are slowly being taken away bit by bit.


message 21: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 2587 comments Mod
Bob wrote: "MadgeUK wrote: "I agree Bob but it was a very conservative age where workers were just beginning to fight for the rights which we now all enjoy (and which are gradually being diluted....) The Moll..."

Secret societies were popular in the 1800s. And Doyle was a freemason. So, yes, they figure quite strongly in his works.


message 22: by MadgeUK (last edited Aug 02, 2012 12:43AM) (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Here is something about CD's Freemasonry, which was linked to his beliefs in occultism, another Victorian obsession:-

http://www.intercol.co.uk/arthur-cona...

http://www.freemasonry.bcy.ca/fiction...

The increase of Secret Societies in the Victorian era was part of the post-Darwin questioning of Christianity, Genesis etc and they were demonised by the established churches because they were thought to be satanic. Descriptions of some of them here:-

http://listverse.com/2007/08/27/top-1...

The notorious Hellfire clubs, which originated in Georgian times and were patronised by the more debauched of the aristocracy were also still popular in CD's day and I think there are references to these somewhere in the novels. They called themselves by various names, such as the Order of the Knights of St Francis, Brotherhood of St Francis of Wycombe’ and Order of Knights of West Wycombe’. Due to the secrecy surrounding the order, it is not known for certain who was a member, although they were all prominent men of their time and involved in politics. The Hellfire Club motto was ‘fait ce que tu voudras’ or ‘Do What Thou Wilt’, which speaks for itself:-

http://www.aquiziam.com/hellfire-club...


message 23: by Karel (new)

Karel | 63 comments Thank you all for your information regarding the secret societies and the Pinkerton, or even unions, I shamely admit that history is not my forte.

What caught my atention was the theme of the infiltrate agent. Since the begining I asumed that Mr Douglas and McMurdo were the same person, and reading his horrific story I thought "well, if he was a murderer, that´s why he never said anything to his wife", but I confess I never saw the Birdy thing coming, it made me gasp :O (I´m sure I wasnt the only one).


message 24: by Karel (new)

Karel | 63 comments Lynnm wrote: "- Birdy Edwards is involved in criminal activity in other to gain information on the Scowrers. Do the crimes justify the end result?."

I do think that what Birdy did in the story is not different of an spy or secret agent, which has to infiltrate a criminal organization so he can bring down the heads of it. Personally, I think is justifiable, finally, he was able to dismantle an organization which had literally terroriced a town for 10 long years.


message 25: by Karel (last edited Aug 16, 2012 11:51AM) (new)

Karel | 63 comments And I dont think CD is talking bad about all the unions or societies, no even the freemasons, it is repeatedly told in the story that in other states the group is good for society.

After all the story of the poor McDouglas I was so frustrated that he was finally thrown from a boat, it was so anticlimatic. Isnt Moriarty the crime mastermind? Couldnt him came up with another way of killing people instead of throw them away from ships or cliffs???


message 26: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 2587 comments Mod
Karel wrote: "And I dont think CD is talking bad about all the unions or societies, no even the freemasons, it is repeatedly told in the story that in other states the group is good for society.

After all the s..."


Good point - Doyle makes it very clear that the Scowrers are very different from the other freemason groups.

And also true about throwing people off boats and cliffs - of course, that was probably quite an effective way to get rid of the body without anyone being able to find it.


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The Readers Review: Literature from 1800 to 1910

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